Reverend Dr. William H. Curtis

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As we finish celebrating the first week of Black History Month 2016, I find myself reflecting on those that made it their life’s work to ensure that African Americans would receive all of the basic rights of an American citizen.  How many of you are familiar with this historic line, declaring these freedoms: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”? First written in the U.S. Declaration of Independence in 1776 by Thomas Jefferson, and notably quoted thereafter in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s monumental “I Have a Dream” speech, we should always remember the basic principles that our nation was founded upon and act to ensure that progress continues to be achieved.

There are many highly esteemed, educated, and successful trailblazers that deserve to be honored, remembered, and celebrated at every possible opportunity. One of those is the late Rev. Dr. Harold A. Carter, Sr, whose 47 years in ministry impacted multiple generations. Dr. Carter should be remembered not just for his determined faith, but for the many leaders and ministries that have grown and developed in unbelievable ways with his direction and example.  While leading his Baltimore-based congregation at New Shiloh Baptist Church, which is now one of the largest churches in Maryland, Dr. Carter labored to establish a church complex that includes senior citizen’s housing, a theological institute, a music school, and a children’s center, all of which have become a model for other ministries to follow.   Outside of the walls of his church, he also became a sought after speaker for the Promise Keepers Men’s Ministry and countless other revivals and events throughout the United States and abroad. His words even crossed the airwaves, as he shared in ministry on WBAL-Radio on Sunday evenings for decades. 

Dr. Carter was heavily influenced by Martin Luther King, Jr. and followed a path similar to that of Dr. King, first aspiring to be an attorney before accepting the call to preach. He was heavily involved at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, coordinating the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968, which sought to rally support for African American causes. His wisdom allowed him to serve as a bridge between leaders, inspiring generations as he served as a spiritual patriarch of love, compassion, generosity, and wisdom. 

I’d like to direct you all to Dr. Carter’s book, The Prayer Tradition of Black People. While discussing the history of African American prayer life, he uncovers nuggets of historical gems that prove to be both engaging and thought-provoking. If you’re looking for some additional stimulating reading material that will provide you the opportunity for exploration during Black History Month—or at any time—I also recommend works by Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu. Dr. Kunjufu has lectured at universities throughout the United States and also served as a consultant to many urban school districts. He has been featured in both Ebony and Essence magazines and has appeared on BET, The Oprah Winfrey Show, and The Michael Baisden Show.


It’s important to get out and educate ourselves locally on the events and celebrations in honor of Black History Month. On February 11th and 15th at 11:45am, the “Hallowed Grounds” tour at the University of Pittsburgh (4200 Fifth Ave, Oakland) highlights numerous significant African American events that occurred on the University of Pittsburgh campus over the years. Among other spots, you will see the computer lab and hear the account of an incident in 1969, when at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, 50 students locked themselves in that room, and in a rousing peaceful protest, demanded to have their voices heard.  

Get out and see the city in honor of Black History Month!

The origin of the formal “Black History Month” commemoration goes back to 1915 when Harvard historian Carter G. Woodson and Pastor Jesse E. Moorland founded a group called the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, which researched and promoted achievements of people who were of African descent. Today, the group is known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, or ASALH. Back in 1926, ASALH began the sponsorship of a Negro History Week in 1926, choosing the second week of February to honor the birthday of Frederick Douglass.  The birthday of Abraham Lincoln was celebrated as well. With overwhelming response, teachers, students, philanthropists, and progressive whites began supporting the effort. Becoming a crucial part of African American life and culture, a genuine appreciation for Negro History Week was fostered, expanding well past Woodson’s death in 1950. In the 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing, and many college students on campuses around the country began to celebrate Black History for the entire month of February. In 1976, the nation’s bicentennial, President Gerald R. Ford urged Americans everywhere to reflect on and honor the accomplishments of African Americans. 

Since then, schools and churches across the country hold events, awareness seminars, and celebrations to honor prominent African Americans from history and in the local communities. Anyone under the age of 50 grew up celebrating this month as a way to study, research, remember, and honor the generations of African Americans who struggled with great adversity to achieve full citizenship in American society, thus impacting social and political change worldwide in the process.

However, many generations lived in a very different time and still bear painful scars. We have a responsibility to continue pressing forward, and cannot allow the sacrifices of those that have come before us to be forgotten. Our history is fraught with adversity, but it is with thanksgiving for past sacrifices, hope for the future, and pride in our accomplishments that we celebrate Black History Month. 

Since the first Black History Month in 1976, every American president has released an African American History Month proclamation. I suggest we make our own proclamations this year. It’s time we stepped forward to endorse the effort, taking pride in those who struggled before us.  In the words of President Gerald R. Ford, let us “Seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”  

 Join me here every week in February as we celebrate Black History.


Jeremiah 29:11
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (NIV)

We recently celebrated a national holiday that celebrated the life and contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As a pastor, I draw inspiration from the ability he had to develop his mind and bring it to the pulpit for a standard in excellence that provides a truly outstanding example for ministry today. He didn’t let doubt stop him from moving his thoughts forward and bringing them to the public. In fact, his passion for improving the situation of his culture and race—all races, really—stands as an inspiration to others to this day. He executed this initiative during a time that was volatile and unfriendly in the way of race equality. Doubt didn’t stop him then. He went on to affect government and author legislation that changed the landscape of racial equality in this country.

The truth is that we all need help now and then; we all have doubts. Recognizing that in ourselves should help us dispel some of the doubt that we experience when we face challenges of any kind or when we set off to improve our lifestyle and our frame of mind. Just as Jeremiah 29:11 tells us, God has good things in store for us. He will provide a promising future and give us our heart’s desire when we strive to follow His direction and heed His wisdom. Like Martin Luther King, Jr., there are many paths to take in life, but those that set us on the journey to righteousness are best. 

The challenges we face each year aren’t anything we haven’t seen before. When we bring the idea of change into our psyche, however, it can seem daunting. I’m sure there were countless days and nights that Martin Luther King, Jr. felt overwhelmed and discouraged. Always remember that God’s plan is for us to prosper and He longs to give us hope and a fulfilling future. With God’s help and our own fortitude behind us, our struggles are not insurmountable, and doubt will not overtake us.  Make 2016 your year, using a renewed sense of confidence to believe that you WILL achieve the things you set your mind to. 


Are we ten pounds lighter yet? Have we managed to save a million dollars in the last two weeks? Have we been getting up every morning at 6:00 AM to pray and reflect on our lives? Have we stopped worrying entirely? Taken that vacation we told ourselves we deserved? While I hope some of these initiatives and positive thoughts for the new year are on our minds, I’m sure we haven’t even come close to any of our New Year’s goals and aspirations yet. I’m hoping that we maintain a positive perspective, making sure to tackle our goals and resolutions at an appropriate speed. Part of our plan this year should also be to avoid taking everything so seriously and being too hard on ourselves. There is time for all of our resolutions and improvements. There is also time to sit back and decide what can happen early on in 2016 to make us feel better, enjoy more time with our families, and get more satisfaction out of our weekly worship.

Simply put, just taking a moment to reflect and think about daily life is the first step in enriched experiences with family and friends, and with ourselves. When we move too fast and pack too much into our days, we run the risk of not enjoying and absorbing any of the beauty of the day. When we slow down and have dinner with our family or actually take the time to enjoy a morning run instead of ticking it off our lists for the day, we can learn to relish the moments that allow us reflection or togetherness with loved ones. In church, when we make the effort to truly sit, listen, and experience the message of God’s Word, we are more centered and more open to that message for the rest of our week! If we sit, tense and thinking of other things, the message is lost on us, and the fellowship with other members of the congregation becomes nonexistent.

So, my advice on this day in mid-January 2016 is this: Stop and take in the day. Understand each moment as God wants us to. Listen to your kids, talk to your spouse, enjoy your time alone exercising, praying, or whatever brings you peace. Take the fellowship that you experience in church into your workplace or in your community as you buy groceries or get your car serviced. Talk to people and interact on a deeper level, trying to understand what makes others happy and what gets you through your own day. This is your first step to seeing all the other components of a happy life fall into place for 2016.

We are a full week into 2016, and I am wondering how we’re all doing with our New Year’s resolutions and our other personal commitments to be better to ourselves and to others. None of us can deny that we do make these vows for change every year. Whether or not we actively participate in the formal making of the resolutions each year, we do mentally decide to do some things differently in the New Year. I am sure that 2016 is no different.

In recent posts, I asked us all to pay more attention to family, hospitality, and graciousness to others, in addition to shaping our own priorities in life. I know that we all have remained faithful churchgoers and stayed true to our own family traditions over the holidays. But, I am wondering if in addition to our New Year’s resolutions, we are keeping the aforementioned important directives in the front of our minds. While I do think we are capable of so much giving at the holidays, I often think that we forget to prioritize our own lives or make changes that benefit ourselves, our families, and our communities. Ultimately, changes that have long-term benefits will help us with success and happiness in the New Year.

So, while we’re all trying to fit our new workout routines into our day or cut sugar and fat out of our diet, let’s also try to focus on changes that will make real, measurable changes in the coming months. What can we do to make ourselves more fulfilled? What can we do to make sure that our problems of the past year—bills that got out of control, relationships that went wrong, endeavors that we never saw through to fruition—do not repeat in the coming weeks, months, or even years? How will we approach each day differently so that we do not slip into past funks or bad habits?

As we kick off this New Year, we will soon see change in the areas we want to see change and movement if we incorporate a new perspective regarding our priorities. If we take the time each day to check how we pay attention to even the most mundane of tasks in our lives, like paying bills or eating right, we will see results. Beyond that, if we also attempt to reach out to others in the simplest of ways, we will see change in how others react to us.  By remaining vigilant ambassadors to how God wants us to shape priorities for ourselves and others, we can set a good example in the community. When we’re at the store, we can be the customer in line who thanks the salesperson instead of complaining, or the customer who asks about another’s well-being instead of going about our business and ignoring the needs of others around us. Instead of judging, we can take the time to help that mother with her cranky kids or the elderly person with too many packages in his or her arms.

The little priorities in life truly matter. If we take time to focus on what is right in front of us, we will see satisfying change and fulfillment more quickly, and we will be able to maintain our newfound approaches of attending to others. Instead of looking ten years into the future and wondering how much money we’ll be making or if we’ll have a bigger house, we should look at tomorrow and decide what is important to us like time with family, life in service to others, and a more organized and calmer daily life. God rewards those who help themselves; this we know. By helping ourselves and reprioritizing, we can in turn help others and begin to “pay it forward” a bit by providing the example that others need.